Phasing out friends is tricky, and few people do it well. It’s easier to do it dirty, ghosting friends like a common Tinder match or texting back, “Sorry, I’m busy with the kids tonight” until they finally get the picture.
But that’s not fair. There’s a kinder, gentler way to un-friend former besties. Below, psychologists and other experts share how to know when a friend breakup is called for and how to do it right.
1. You don’t feel like the best version of yourself around your friend.
Is hanging out with your friend a restorative moment in your week or do you feel more drained each time you talk? If it’s the latter, you may need to reconsider your friendship, said Melissa Cohen, a psychotherapist and relationship coach in Westfield, New Jersey.
“If you dread seeing them or don’t want to respond to their texts, that’s a bad sign,” she said. “Likewise, if you feel depleted after spending time together, you’re not getting what you need from the friendship.”
2. You’re not equally supportive of each other.
If your friends aren’t willing to be your cheerleaders and supporters, what good are they? Your lives should complement each other and it should never feel like a competition, said Kali Rogers, the CEO and founder of Blush, an online life coaching company for girls.
“If one or neither of you truly supports the other in their life choices, endeavors or values, it’s time to call it quits,” she said. “Friends don’t tear each other down. They even put their own personal opinions aside sometimes for the sake of the friendship because it’s just that worth it.”
3. There’s a good, legitimate reason to end things.
Friend breakups should only happen when the relationship has become toxic or unhealthy ― not simply because your pal was running late and caused you to miss the first half of a concert.
“Don’t make a decision lightly,” said Irene S. Levine, a psychologist and author of The Friendship Blog “Once you break up you’ll never be able to restore the friendship to the same level of intimacy.”
4. Remember that not all friendships are meant to last.
Just like romantic relationships, many friendships have a natural beginning and end, said Andrea Bonior, a psychologist and author of The Friendship Fix: The Complete Guide to Choosing, Losing, and Keeping Up With Your Friends.
“Some friendships are meant to apply to various times in our life,” she said. “You can gain something very valuable by trying to explore what went wrong (and what went right!) and help it inform your future friendships.”
1. You might be able to get away with the slow fade method. (That does not mean ghosting.)
Depending on your level of friendship, a slow fade (gradually not contacting them as much, not spending as much time with them, not getting into as much detail in conversation) may be acceptable. But keep in mind that this only works if it’s a mutual dance, Bonior said.
“Don’t leave the person hanging if they don’t seem to be backing off as well,” she said. “In that case, you owe it to them to have a more direct (if awkward!) conversation about how you see your life moving in a different direction.”
2. Word your breakup spiel very carefully.
Take an “it’s not you, it’s me” approach to this sure-to-be heavy conversation, said Suzanne Degges-White, a counselor and author of Toxic Friendships: Knowing the Rules and Dealing with the Friends Who Break Them.
“Use ‘I statements’ and own your feelings,” she said. “Being honest can be a final parting gift for your soon-to-be ex-friend that may actually benefit her in the long run.”
3. Treat your friend with respect during the conversation.
Ending the relationship on a respectful note is crucial if you’re hopeful that someday you may become friends again.
“Remember that this person was once your friend and you may want to re-friend them at some point,” she explained. “And if you’re neighbors or co-workers, you’ll definitely want to do whatever you can to maintain a cordial relationship afterwards.”
4. Avoid collateral damage as much as you can.
No one likes to choose sides. To ensure that your mutual friends don’t feel that way, debrief them on the breakup early on, Degges-White said. No ranting about why you had a falling out, just a respectful heads up that it happened.
“But be prepared for mutual friend causalities,” Degges-White said. “They may choose your ex-friend.”
5. Know that there’s going to be painful, unresolved feelings afterward.
Expect upset feelings. Expect push back. Expect blame. Expect to feel really, really guilty when you come across something that reminds you of your friend. Ultimately, those uncomfortable feelings mean that the boundaries you set are working, Rogers said.
“If you don’t experience any of [the above], that’s amazing and your friend has probably reached the same conclusion you have about your relationship,” she said. “But if you do get negativity in return, keep setting the boundary. You are doing the right thing and this only proves that the friendship needed to end.”